At the beginning of June, the most difficult sowing campaign in thirty years of independence ended. As a result of the war, only three-quarters of Ukraine’s arable land was sown. Farmers faced fuel shortages, shelling, mining, and logistics problems. Nevertheless, businessmen and government officials believe the crop was as successful as it could be during the war. Although they warn that the yield will be lower than in previous years.
Crops during the war
According to the Ministry of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine, the area under crops was 13.3 million hectares, which is 3.6 million less than last year (16.9 million hectares) – 78% of the sown area in peacetime.
The area of sugar beet decreased from 225 thousand to 181 thousand hectares, soybeans – from 1.28 million to 1.215 million hectares, spring barley – from 1.3 million to 951 thousand hectares, corn – from 5.4 million hectares to 3.2 million hectares, sunflower – from 6.5 million hectares to 3.2 million hectares.
In the occupied territories and in the areas of active hostilities – in parts of Zaporizhia, Donetsk, Kharkiv, Mykolaiv and throughout the Kherson and Luhansk regions – sowing was disrupted.
“This is the most difficult sowing in recent years. However, in the current conditions, it can be rated at “A”. We managed to sow almost all available areas. Farmers needed it because uncultivated fields would be overgrown with weeds and next year they would have to invest much more resources for sowing,” – Alexei Eremin, an analyst at Agritel International, which specializes in managing business efficiency in grain and oilseeds industry, said to LB.ua.
Because of the war, farmers faced many problems that affected the course of sowing. These include rocket and artillery shelling, mines, fuel shortages, complicated logistics and curfews.
However, farmers still continued to sow, sometimes close to the trenches of our defenders. Often the military themselves helped to work, protecting agricultural machinery and people.
“When sowing takes place, you have to work day and night. But at the beginning of the curfew, we worked only during the day. Then they agreed with the military and started working at night. The land was cultivated both under fire and near trenches. The military guarded us, escorted agronomists during research,” – Fedir Kurtev, a senior agronomist at Ukrprominvest-Agro [Ukrainian company], told LB.ua.
Farmers faced a lot of problems even in the territories that are liberated from the enemy.
“Every day we find unexploded shells from “Tornado” or “Grad” [Russian multiple rocket launchers] in the field. And every day our workers hear explosions in the fields, every day something burns and smokes. We even have to make our way through the mined areas, being careful not to run into them,” – said Serhiy Ochkalov, an agronomist at the Desna farm in the Chernihiv region.
Due to the fighting, farmers are losing agricultural machinery. The Russians stole agricultural machinery en masse and exported it to Russia.
“There are farms in Sumy, Chernihiv, Kyiv, and parts of the Kharkiv region that have given up sowing. All because their agricultural machinery was destroyed and their sown areas were mined. But there are a small number of them,” – Svitlana Lytvyn, an analyst at the Ukrainian Agrarian Business Club, told LB.ua.
In response to a request from LB.ua, the Ministry of Agriculture said that as of June 8, 2022, farmers in Kyiv, Sumy, Chernihiv, Luhansk, Zaporizhia, Kherson, and Mykolaiv regions lost 2,281 units of machinery and equipment as a result of hostilities. This is both destroyed and stolen equipment.
There is no information on the number of farmers killed during sowing in the Ministry of Agriculture. However, according to open sources and media information, at least five farmers were killed in a mine blast or enemy shelling in 2022.
How the structure of crops has changed
As a result of the war, the structure of crops changed. According to the Ministry of Agriculture, farmers sowed primarily those crops that cost more, and yields per hectare – less. This is primarily rapeseed and soybeans. This facilitates the logistics of harvesting due to the smaller volume.
The area under winter rapeseed in 2022 increased by 31% compared to 2021 and increased from 972 thousand hectares to 1.4 one million hectares in 2022. Indicators of spring rapeseed crops also increased slightly from 33.4 thousand hectares in 2021 to 33.6 thousand hectares in 2022. The area under soybeans decreased in 2022, but by only six percent to 1.213 million hectares, while in 2021 the figure was 1.28 million hectares.
Farmers also reduced corn crops in favor of spring wheat. All because of the fact that its value is higher in world markets. Corn acreage decreased by 40% from 5.4 to 3.2 million hectares, while spring wheat crops increased by six percent from 188,000 hectares in 2021 to almost 200,000 hectares in 2022.
“Wheat is the basis of food security and is in great demand on the world market. Soybeans and rapeseed are oilseeds that have a high cost per tonne and lower yields. Therefore, they are simpler in logistics. Currently, export channels are very narrow, so there has been a change in the structure of crops,” – said Svitlana Lytvyn.
Farmers with a smaller land bank were more focused on the domestic consumer, so they increased crops of buckwheat, peas, spring barley, and oats. However, in general figures, it is still less than last year.
As of June 13, 2022, 80,000 hectares of buckwheat were sown, compared to 84 hectares in 2021. The area of pea crops in 2022 is 131 thousand hectares. In 2021, this figure was 242 thousand hectares. Spring barley crops decreased from 1.3 million hectares in 2021 to 951 thousand hectares in 2022. And the area under oats decreased by 18 thousand hectares and amounted to 159 thousand hectares compared to 177 thousand hectares in 2021.
Farmers predict that this year the yield will decrease significantly – due to high prices for fertilizers, shortages of fuel and pesticides.
“The history of fertilizers began even before the start of hostilities. They have risen sharply in price. Farmers stocked up in advance and were provided with 80% fertilizer before sowing. Winter wheat was “fed before the start of hostilities. The problem is that farmers now do not have the money to buy what they lack – fertilizers, plant protection products from various pests and diseases. Therefore, we will have lower yields than the average for the last three years, “Svitlana Lytvyn warned.
The quality of the harvest will be affected by storage problems. Due to port blockages, most elevators are at least 50% full. Therefore, part of the new harvest will be stored in non-designated warehouses and fields.
Therefore, experts predict an increase in the share of fodder wheat, which is suitable only for animals.
Farmers themselves are more concerned that Russia will deliberately destroy crops.
“Sowing is one thing, but harvesting is quite another. We understand that the Russians can deliberately destroy our crops. We already see it. Deliberate arsons of winter wheat were in the Kherson region, they will try to burn our fields, ” – said Ilya Troitsky, chief agronomist of the Prometheus farm in Mykolayiv region.
Under such conditions, the Ministry of Agriculture predicts a harvest at 30-50% of last year. In total, this is about 50 million tons of agricultural products. In 2021, they managed to collect 86 million tons of agricultural products – a record in the history of Ukraine.
Wheat yields will fall by 40% and are expected to reach 18 million tons, in 2021 – 32 million tons.
However, there will be no shortage of products: Ukrainians consume 19 million tons of agricultural products a year. But how the world compensates for food shortages is a big question.